Give us an update about your research and work since writing the last book, Break Your Own Rules. What have you been up to and learning?
We conducted original research to help us understand why women were so turned off by office politics and how we could help. We surveyed 134 senior executives in leading organizations, and the results revealed that women and men fundamentally disagree on the overall objective of politics. Women said they use the tools of politics to “manage relationships,” whereas men use them to “win.” Women were far more likely to mention “creating impact and ideas,” while men were more than twice as likely to describe “carving a one-time advantage.”
Women are judged more harshly than men when engaging in office politics, and our lack of access to sponsors puts us at a disadvantage.
Also, women and men have differing approaches to power and influence. It’s collaboration vs. competition.
Study: Women are judged more harshly than men when engaging in office politics.
For those who aren’t up to date on the latest research, tell us why gender balance is good for organizations. What’s the case for gender diversity?
Hardwiring in the brain is different for men and women. The physical differences are associated with natural tendencies in thinking, communicating, and problem solving that are all needed in business. Men and women demonstrate these traits in varying degrees. Organizations that have traits from both genders will get the best questioning, debate, and idea generation resulting in healthier strategies and increased performance over those who don’t. Those are the organizations that will create the best products and services for their customers.
Fact: Public companies with more than 1 woman on the Board have higher returns.
I don’t believe people resist it. I believe leaders don’t know what to do to change it. That’s the biggest reason I wrote the book – to provide some actionable advice as to what leaders can do to effect change. Others have brought awareness and that’s a good first step. Now we need to start doing the things that will lead to more gender diversity in leadership positions.
Study: Companies with no gender balance on the board have lower market capitalization.
You say that you wrote the book mainly for men in power because they can change the ratio. And then you say some “get it” and some “think about it.” What’s the difference?
I wrote the book mainly for people in positions of power – anyone who is in a senior leadership role can effect change faster. At this time, the vast majority of those people are men. Of the male leaders I interviewed, I found that there are two main groups: those who “get it” and have been taking steps for several years to have more women in leadership, and those who are “thinking about it” – that is, they acknowledge that women are important to their business but are struggling to find ways to have more of them in senior leadership. The biggest difference between these two groups of leaders is that those who have greater gender balance in their organizations have taken some very deliberate steps to get them there. They take more time to seek candidates and they reach outside their known network to find female candidates. They tend to take more risks on up-and-coming talent within their organizations as well.
Reasons Companies Fail to Keep Women
It’s not only recruiting but also retention that is important to changing the ratio. What are some of the reasons organizations fail to keep women?
Some organizations still refuse to implement the flexibility it takes to keep female talent. They still view creating flexibility as making exceptions rather than viewing it as a competitive advantage. They are busy counting hours instead of measuring results. Those that continue to think that way will fall behind in the war for the best talent.
What’s unconscious gender bias and how do you recognize and deal with it?
Unconscious gender bias is continuing to hire people who are just like us (male or female) and not even thinking about the ramifications of doing so. Little to no thought is being given to examining the gender balance of the team or organization when this continues to happen. The only way for it to change is for the top leader to set the tone and lead by example. Everyone follows the lead of the CEO or President, which in itself is far more important than implementing awareness initiatives.
In his wonderful book, Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard researcher Daniel Gilbert points out that often our best bet for making decisions we will both enjoy and benefit from is to ask our peers who have made similar decisions. Gilbert’s advice before embarking on an important decision is to ask someone whom we trust, who has also made the decision we are contemplating, and follow their advice. And as Gilbert points out, once we learn their point of view on the matter, we often refuse that advice on the grounds that our situation is different. We reject their advice claiming, “But I’m unique! How could they possibly know what’s best for me?”
Research conclusion: The inability to accept outside advice and insight increases with power.
More recent research concludes that this inability to accept outside advice and insight only increases with power. The more power and resources controlled by an individual, the more confident they tend to be in their decision-making and the less they tend to listen and be influenced by outside opinions and points of view. However, in their study women were often an exception.
In two phases of the study, women tended to be more open to outside points of view regardless of their position of power within the organization. In their study entitled “The detrimental effects of power on confidence, advice taking, and accuracy,” Kelly See and her colleagues discovered that women more often reported less certainty in their decisions than men and solicited the advice and opinions of their colleagues more. Most interestingly, because women more often solicited the opinion and advice of their colleagues, they were viewed by their peers as more confident leaders.
So while they may have lacked confidence in their decisions, women were regarded as more confident and effective leaders precisely because they asked for advice from their peers.